How the Media Influences Presidential Approval Ratings

How the Media Influences Presidential Approval Ratings
In 1932 when President Franklin Roosevelt won the election he was already physically disabled and bound to a wheelchair as he had been suffering from polio ??“ a fact that the majority of voters were never aware of as there was little to no media, other than radio at the time. However, in 2008 the United States prepared for the results of the presidential race. Leading up to this point many people had watched, or heard about, many satires made about the Republican candidates, John McCain and Sarah Palin. Many media outlets made a mockery of their personal lives, appearance and speeches ??“ all of which may have contributed to their loss of votes. To some Americans the media seems non-biased, the media does affect how Americans view the presidential candidates.
The media plays an integral part in presidential elections today. It used to be that candidates relied mostly on national media to influence voters, but today more candidates are depending on local media to appeal to their audience. Local media presents candidates with the ability to travel around the country and going face-to-face with the voters. Studies have shown that more Americans watch local news networks for presidential election information than national news programming giving those candidates who are willing to travel the campaign trail more coverage (Presidential Studies Quarterly, 2010).
George W. Bush used the local media approach throughout this presidency. He started out making many appearances throughout his candidacy in 2000 and continued to do so through his presidency. Bush claimed the national media filtered his words and they did not come across properly, so it was important for him to travel across the country to speak in person. Presidential visits are considered rare, and often become a major event for a town. These visits would create positive publicity and attention for the Bush administration whenever he would hold an appearance. These visits would make the specific town feel closer to Bush because he chose to stop in their town and speak to them directly. These visits have a way of making a town or city feel unique or special, and also bring the town together in excitement.
While working with the local media has proven to be a successful notion for presidential candidates, it does not negate the fact that prime time and day time television have wide audiences of voters as well. Candidates can get their messages across to the masses by appearing on televised debates and even on top rated television shows. By appearing on a popular news magazine program, or even a sitcom, it can make a candidate appear more likeable or relatable to the voting public. When a candidate can appear more likeable to the voters, their approval rating will likely rise, but if a candidate is comes across as uneducated or difficult they must be prepared for unfavorable results come polling time. For example, when Alaskan governor, Sarah Palin, became a target for comedians and news personalities alike for stating the proximity of Alaska to Russia??™s border gave her foreign policy experience in an interview with Katie Couric in 2008, her approval ratings started to dwindle. She came across to the country as uneducated and unqualified after stating the following.
“As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where??“ where do they go Its Alaska. Its just right over the border.” (Palin, S. 2008, ABC News interview)
In 2008, Barack Obama ran for his first term in the presidential election against John McCain. Obama had several highly publicized appearances on Oprah and Saturday Night Live. While on Oprah, Obama came across as a regular family man who was trying to improve upon the country for his wife, two daughters, and mother-in-law. Like one of the most popular presidents in history, Bill Clinton, Obama had the opportunity to show his comedic side by performing several skits on Saturday Night Live which showed he could laugh at himself making him more relatable to viewers. Unfortunately McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, did not have the same luck with such popular shows and debates. This can be shown in the American Review of Canadian Studies:
???Palins selection as McCains running mate has alienated Republican women, especially working class women, shifting them to Obama as well. Polls suggest that Republican women are crossing over to Obama because of his positions on issues of wages, reproductive rights, and gender. McCain mentioned families only once in three debates, when he pledged assistance to families with autistic children like Sarah Palins??? (Lashley, 2009 p. 371).During the 2008 election season, Saturday Night Live alum Tina Fey returned to the show to portray Sarah Palin due to her incredible physical and audible likenesses. The imitation became a weekly regular on the show in which Fey used quotes from Palin in the satire almost exclusively. The sketch comedy program showed no shortages of comical quotes from the former Alaskan governor to choose from which made a mockery of the vice presidential hopeful. Between September and October Sarah Palin??™s approval ratings dropped dramatically [as Obama??™s running mate, Joe Biden, climbed] after Tina Fey began impersonating the governor on Saturday Night Live as shown in Table 1 below (Sarah Palin dives in poll ratings as Tina Fey impersonates her on Saturday Night Live, 2008).Table 1 Candidate Not Favorable/Unfavorable Ratings
Note: From Sarah Palin??™s Approval Rating Drops 10%, 2008. Obtained on May 31, 2011 from
Obama and Palin had gone against each other in the prime time and day time programming, but certain networks are said to be biased against different political parties. By a certain network showing preference for one candidate over another, they will be more likely to show positive coverage of their preference. This may have a negative impact on the other candidates if they are not in that networks favor (DellaVigna, S., Kaplan, E., 2007)
Media bias can even be used to the opposing parties benefit. Fox News always has been viewed as pro-Republican, often launching attacks on the Democratic Party. In 2008 Fox News was set to sponsor the Democratic debate; however liberal activists asked that if be canceled due to the channel??™s alleged attacks. Those activists used perception as a way to make the public think poorly of the Republican Party proving that perception is in the eye of the beholder and may not always be the truth.
Even Hilary Clinton, a Democratic candidate, praised Fox News when her approval numbers with the network were up. When competitor for the Democratic nomination Obama??™s approval ratings were dismal in the South, where Fox News is the most popular news source, he blamed the network for not giving him enough positive press. Perception might be in the eye of the beholder, but when it comes to a presidential election, perception can be everything.
Other networks have claimed they only report what is happening in politics and not biased. Walter Cronkite of CBS fame has said ???Our job is to hold up the mirror ??“ to tell and show the public what has happened. Then it??™s the job of the people to decide whether they have faith in their leaders or government.??? Cronkite made a point of showing his, and the network??™s stance on political bias to prove that they only wanted to provide the news and not take the side of either party.
NBC has been inadvertently biased on numerous occasions by not posting poll results in the presidential approval ratings as often as other networks. After the tragedy of 9/11, ABC, CBS, and CNN showed a drastic jump in approval ratings for the Bush administration, but NBC was delayed in displaying the same results. They were not trying to influence voters or not show support of President Bush; they simply did not display the results as quickly as other networks.
Television is not the only media source that influences presidential approval ratings. The invention of the Internet has bought about new developments in communication for presidential candidates as well as the current administration. The Internet allows research of historical information as well as up to the minute updates on any number of political topics. While it can certainly be a helpful tool, it can also serve as a way for presidential candidates and the President to update the American public.
While President Clinton was in office, the White House developed a website ( to bring presidential communication to a whole new level. The website offers many options for multimedia such as photos, live video streams, videos and podcasts. The main page of the website allows viewers the option to watch the Video of the Week posted and maintained by the webmaster. Here, voters can also find biographies of each member of the current administration and view legislation in all stages, press briefs, statements, and speeches (The White House, 2011).
Furthering the use of media for presidential communication with the public are social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. President Obama has used Twitter to send condolences to those affected by natural disasters, and promote his stance on important issues such as education reform and immigration. He also uses the network to update anyone who chooses to follow him to promote upcoming presidential addresses and events; even where he will be making public appearances. By being so linked in to the American voters, President Obama has shown how the Internet can be used to stay up to date on the most current political happenings. The table below shows the percentage increase in both Internet access from 1996-2000, and the amount the internet was accessed to view political information.
Table 2 The Growth of Internet Access for Political Information
Note: From Does the Internet Increase Voter Participation in Elections, by C. Tolbert & McNeal, R., p.19. Facebook has become so popular, even for politicians that in May 2011 former governor Pawlenty from Minnesota announced his candidacy for the 2012 presidential election on the social networking site. The next day, Pawlenty went before the press to make the official announcement to the media. Even though he had already done so for anyone who he was ???friends??? with on Facebook, he still needed to make the public announcement for the rest of the country. This act shows just how powerful the Internet is becoming concerning election time. (Shear, 2011) brings together the social networking and political news in one place. During election time the website offers a section designated for information on the candidates??™ approval ratings from the most current polls, as well as similarities and differences between them. Also in this section of the website, voters can comment on various stories provided about the candidates and even post the story to their own Facebook page or Twitter account.
Through the years countless strides are being made in the way media is used when it comes to presidential elections. With the presidential race quickly approaching in November 2012, the media will again be on the lookout for the next press-stopping story to run on the candidates. Many voters will watch debates, listen to the speeches, and research each candidate??™s stances on important topics. There will also be many people watching shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show as comedians develop new material and jokes in which to take aim at their new targets. As time goes on, candidates are starting to take more care in how they are being perceived in person and in the media, all in hopes for additional support in his or her pursuit of the presidency. For those who can gain that media support they will have greater chance of winning the election. Just as President Obama.References
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Lashley, M. (2009) The Politics of Cognitive Dissonance: Spin, the Media, and
Race (and Ethnicity) in the 2008 US Presidential Election. Retrieved from
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